Emanuel Shahaf

Israel’s ride to freedom

Israel’s electorate has spoken and it has clearly rejected foreign influence as a major input to its decision – Netanyahu was reelected fair and square despite the fact that Israelis do understand by now that his relationship with the US administration is, how shall we put it, caustic. The voters couldn’t care less because they still think by and large that on the major points of contention between the US administration and Israel, the Palestinian issue and Iran, Netanyahu knows what he’s talking about and Obama doesn’t. Oh, and Herzog doesn’t know either.

While Israeli polticians of all persuasions and most of the public are still trying to figure out if Obama is actually pro-Israel and just hates Netanyahu’s guts or if he is a dyed in the wool anti-Semite who uses the latters misguided policies as an excuse to finally do what he always wanted to do, screw Israel big time, things don’t look well for us all things considered. Bottom line: Obama’s real position on Israel makes little difference since we have to deal with him, either way.

Barack Obama is the first ideologue do-gooder president in the White House since Jimmy Carter and we feel the pressure, just like we did then.  Then we were lucky to have PM Menachem Begin who realized, more than anything else, that it is the interests of both countries that are at stake and personal feelings have to play second fiddle. As a result he never considered damaging the US-Israel relationship and his flawless and honorable personal conduct prevented major damage even when there were serious disagreements with President Carter.

Netanyahu is another story altogether. With a rich record of misleading his partners, any partners and a yawning credibility gap he is not really in a position to mend the relationship with Obama. The trust that possibly could have been developed if Netanyahu were another kind of guy, won’t be developed this late in the relationship and Obama will concentrate on preserving US interests not helping Netanyahu to reestablish rapport.

Those interests include first and foremost to keep the US out of wars and to try to get regional players to take responsibilty to keep things calm instead of constantly calling on Uncle Sam to play a leading role to fix what is broken and sometimes what isn’t. Part of this approach is getting Iran to be a regional player if only to counteract the Sunni rebellion and ISIS. At the same time, nuclear arms limitations are a long term goal of Obama’s worldview and he will certainly do his best to prevent Iran from developing nukes as he promised if only to make sure that no regional nuclear arms race is going to break out. What makes things difficult is that Obama has to do both, let Iran help against ISIS and interdict its nuclear program trying to deliver even if the two aims interfere with each other, as they certainly do. Another part of Obama’s approach is to get Israel to take responsibility for its policies.

Israel isn’t going to help the US one bit on this. We are all set to try and make sure that Iran doesn’t get good deal, a bad deal or any deal, no matter what. We will be obstructionist til the end. Israel, armed to the teeth including nukes (so they say..) isn’t going to let anybody in the vicinity have that kind of capability. And since we, according to foreign sources, developed our own nukes on the sly, the expectation is that others, notably Iran will do so as well no matter what treaty they sign or what supervision they are under.

There is, of course, no precedence to what is happening with Iran. The treaty whose details are being published as these lines are written is a compromise, not an Iranian submission but what appears clear already now is that it will be difficult for Iran to break the treaty without being exposed. But for us, that’s not good enough – after all we know exactly what will happen, we always do: The worst. We always expect the worst. If it doesn’t happen now, it will surely happen later. It’s best to expect the worst because then you can keep everybody scared and focussed on the one thing you can’t do anything about – the perceived enemy.

Netanyahu, is now trying to form a government. He knows very well that he cannot in good conscience present a right wing government to the world. To the electorate certainly, not to the international community.  No matter how much he will cry victim after the accord with Iran, he has overplayed his cards and his lack of good faith negotiating with the Palestinians has cancelled his ticket: Netanyahu will not get a free ride. The international community will make him pay. How much ? The estimate will be high enough for him to consider a unity government in earnest.

Whatever government Netanyahu will put together, it will have to deal with a completely new environment, one where the US is but a very careful player looking out only for its interests, not a big bully potecting Israel against its own untenable policies no matter what. Finally, after too many years, the training wheels have come off. It may take a fall or two before we learn how to ride without them. Riding without them will be liberating, there is nothing to be afraid of.

About the Author
The author served in the Prime Minister’s Office as a member of the intelligence community, is Vice Chairman of the Israel-Indonesia Chamber of Commerce, Vice-Chairman of the Israeli-German Society (IDG), Co-Chair of the Federation Movement (, member of the council at and author of "Identity: The Quest for Israel's Future".